The Lower Criminal Courts  book cover
1st Edition

The Lower Criminal Courts

ISBN 9780367219307
Published June 10, 2019 by Routledge
182 Pages

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Book Description

This book explores misdemeanor courts in the United States by focusing on the processing of misdemeanor crimes and the resultant consequences of conviction, such as loss of employment and housing, the imposition of significant fines, and loss of liberty—all amounting to the criminalization of poverty that happens in many U.S. misdemeanor courts. A major concern is the lack of due process employed in lower courts. Although the seminal case of Gideon v. Wainwright required the appointment of counsel to individuals too poor to hire counsel in felony cases, it was not until 1967, when the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice found a crisis in the lower courts, that the Supreme Court extended the right to counsel to some (though not all) prosecutions of misdemeanor offenses.

The first step to improving our understanding of the lower courts is a concerted effort by scholars to focus on the processing and outcomes of misdemeanor cases. This collection begins to fill the void by providing a comprehensive review of the scholarly work on the lower courts in the United States. Collecting analysis from key academics engaged in work in this area today, the book reviews the varying specialized lower criminal courts, including specialty courts that have emerged in just the last couple of decades, along with discussions of the history, legal challenges, operation, primary actors (judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and defendants), and current research on these courts. The book explores the profound consequences misdemeanor processing has for defendants and discusses the future of the lower criminal courts and offers best practices to improve them.

The Lower Criminal Courts is essential for scholars and undergraduate and graduate students in criminology, sociology, justice studies, pre-law/legal studies, political science, and social work, and it is also useful as a resource providing legal practitioners with important information, highlighting the significance of consequences of misdemeanor arrests, detentions, and adjudications.

Table of Contents

Section 1. Introduction to the Legal and Empirical History of the Lower Courts

1. Introduction—Why Misdemeanor Courts Matter

Alisa Smith

2. Legal History of Misdemeanor Courts

Alisa Smith

3. The Process is the Punishment Revisited: Forty-Year Anniversary Review

Jennifer Earl

Section 2. Research and Scholarly Work on Misdemeanors Today

4. The Impact of Broken-Windows Policing on Lower Criminal Courts

Jacinta M. Gau and Nicholas Paul

5. Providing Counsel for Defendants: Access, Quality, and Impact

Andrew Davis and Kirstin A. Morgan

6. Misdemeanor Justice in Rural Courts

Alissa Pollitz Worden and Alyssa M. Clark

7. The Validity of Misdemeanor Pleas

Samantha Luna, Amy Dezember, and Allison D. Redlich

8. Minor Crimes, Major Impacts: An Examination of Racially Disparate Outcomes in Misdemeanor Court Processing 

Amanda P. Cook

9.The Financial Consequences of Misdemeanors

Sean Maddan and Sierra Bell

10. Specialty Courts as Lower Criminal Courts

Richard D. Hartley

Section 3. Recommendations for Reforming the Lower Courts

11. The Prosecutor in the Misdemeanor Courtroom: Nudging Culture Change in Policy and Practice

Julian Adler, Sherene Crawford, and Tia Pooler

12. Bail and Pretrial Detention Reform in the Lower Courts

Reveka V. Shteynberg Alissa Pollitz Worden

13. Necessary but Not Sufficient: A Reexamination of Procedural Justice in the Lower Courts (and Beyond)

Julian Adler, Rachel Swaner, and Michael Rempel

14. The Future of Drug, Homeless, and Veterans Courts

Mai E. Naito

15. Conclusion

Sean Maddan

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Alisa Smith is an Associate Professor and the Chair of the Department of Legal Studies at University of Central Florida. She holds a PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and a JD from the Florida State University. She practiced law for 29 years, mostly in the area of criminal defense and appeals. She has authored more than 20 peer-reviewed and law journal articles, reports, and book chapters, and she has authored two previous books. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Criminal Justice, Florida Law Review, and American Journal of Criminal Law.

Sean Maddan is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Texas A&M International University. Dr. Maddan has authored over a dozen articles which have appeared in many outlets including Justice Quarterly, Crime and Delinquency, Journal of Criminal Justice, and the American Journal of Criminal Justice. Dr. Maddan has also authored/co-authored several books. His most recent book is the fifth edition of his statistics book.


The Lower Criminal Courts is a timely and meaningful addition to the literature on courts and criminal justice. The authors focus much-needed attention on an understudied and misunderstood, but extremely important aspect of the criminal justice system. This is must-read material for anyone interested in how the criminal courts provide (or fail to provide) justice.

Craig Hemmens, JD, PhD, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University

Although misdemeanors represent the vast majority of American criminal cases, they have historically received inadequate academic attention. This thorough and serious survey, with its wide range of scholarly offerings, helps to fill that void. For students, the book provides an effective introduction to the enormous and complex lower court landscape. For scholars and policymakers, it offers careful and useful analyses. Overall, it deepens the current conversation about misdemeanors and their centrality to our criminal justice system.

Alexandra Natapoff, author of Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal

Every year millions of people are charged with misdemeanor offenses, an event that can have surprising impact on life and livelihood. Yet much remains unknown about the inner workings of what, in many courts, can only charitably be called the misdemeanor "system." The articles in this book shine a bright light on the way the various criminal justice players through an array of common court practices actually work to shape due process —for better and for worse. This book takes a deep and candid look at the actions of police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, and is highly recommended for those with an interest in the challenges facing misdemeanor courts and the possibility of reform.

Brian J. Ostrom, PhD, National Center for State Courts

In the United States more than 13 million individuals are prosecuted for misdemeanor crimes annually. Yet, The Lower Criminal Courts provides irrefutable evidence that "the vast majority of these defendants are deprived of their fundamental rights to counsel and jury trial." Professors Alisa Smith and Sean Maddan have compiled a tour de force that fully explores the history of the nation’s misdemeanor courts and how they have become one of the most powerful engines of assembly line injustice ever devised. An impressive array of authors present the research and Gindings that prove the magnitude of this injustice, and analyze the many factors that contributed to this blight on the American notions of fairness and justice. As importantly, in identifying potential reforms, the compilation offers a cautionary tales about the dangers of overreliance on seemingly simplistic panaceas, such as dubious policing practices, and the need to embrace innovation at all stages of the criminal justice process. The Lower Criminal Courts is an essential resource for anyone who wants to understand the disgraceful state of the nation’s misdemeanor courts and intelligently pursue meaningful and effective reform.

Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers